Overview: Philosophy of Religion

Cicero - Philosophy, Theology, Religion: The Nature of the Gods. 'As a philosopher, I have a right to ask for a rational explanation of religious faith.' (Cicero) As a philosopher, I have a right to ask for a rational explanation of religious faith. (Cicero)

Since the early stages of civilization philosophy has been closely connected with religion. This fact is strikingly apparent in Indian philosophy, which is intimately bound up with the doctrine of the sacred books, The Vedas. In the early stages of Greek civilization, the boundary line between philosophy and other departments of human knowledge was not sharply defined, and philosophy was understood to mean 'every striving towards knowledge'. In the ninth century A.D, Alcuin says that philosophy is 'investigation of nature, and such knowledge of things human and Divine as is possible for man'. (P.L., CI, 952).
The philosophy of religion is the science which examines the value of religion, and investigates with careful scrutiny the grounds of theistic belief. It seeks to provide a rational account of God and the universe (not founded on convention and belief). In its method of procedure and choice of arguments, it shows considerable variation, due in large measure to the different theories of knowledge that obtain in the world of philosophers.
Generally though in philosophy, God is refered to as the One thing that exists, infinite and eternal, that causes and connects the many things. Likewise, Religion, from Latin 'religare' meaning 'to bind', describes our connection to God as the One thing which exists. From this foundation a connection can be found between the sciences of philosophy, physics, metaphysics, and theology, as they are all founded on the Reality of One thing existing.

Definitions of Religion and Philosophy

The derivation of the word religion has been a matter of dispute from ancient times. Not even today is it a closed question. Cicero, in his 'De natura deorum', II, xxviii, derives religion from relegere (to treat carefully):

Those who carefully took in hand all things pertaining to the gods were called religiosi, from relegere.(Cicero)

Another far more likely derivation, one that suits the idea of religion in its simple beginning, is that given by Lactantius, in his 'Divine Institutes', IV, xxviii. He derives religion from religare (to bind):

We are tied to God and bound to Him [religati] by the bond of piety, and it is from this, and not, as Cicero holds, from careful consideration [relegendo], that religion has received its name. (Lactantius)

The objection that religio could not be derived from religare, a verb of the first conjugation, is not of great weight, when we call to mind that opinio omes from opinari, and rebellio from rebellare. St. Augustine, in his 'City of God', X, iii, derives religio from religere in the sense of recovering:

having lost God through neglect [negligentes], we recover Him [religentes] and are drawn to Him. (St Augustine)

This explanation, implying the notion of the Redemption, is not suited to the primary idea of religion. St. Augustine himself was not satisfied with it, for in his 'Retractions', I, xiii, he abandoned it in favour of the derivation given by Lactantius. He employs the latter meaning in his treatise 'On the True Religion', where he says:

'Religion binds us [religat] to the one Almighty God.' (St Augustine)

St. Thomas, in his 'Summa', II-II, Q. lxxxi, a. 1, gives all three derivations without pronouncing in favour of any. The correct one seems to be that offered by Lactantius. Religion in its simplest form implies the notion of being bound to God; the same notion is uppermost in the word religion in its most specific sense, as applied to the life of poverty, chastity, and obedience to which individuals voluntarily bind themselves by vows more or less solemn. Hence those who are thus bound are known as religious.

According to its etymology, the word 'philosophy' (philosophia, from philein, to love, and sophia, wisdom) means 'the love of wisdom'. In its proper acceptation, philosophy does not mean the aggregate of the human sciences, but 'the general science of things in the universe by their ultimate determinations and reasons'; or again, 'the intimate knowledge of the causes and reasons of things', the profound knowledge of the universal order.
Plato defined philosophy as the acquisition of knowledge (Plato, Euthydemus, 288 d) and further defines the philosopher as one who apprehends the essence or reality of things in opposition to the man who dwells in appearances and the shows of sense.
The philosophers are those who are able to grasp the eternal and immutable; they are those who set their affections on that which in each case really exists. (Plato, Republic 480)
All men consider philosophy as concerned with first causes and principles. (Aristotle, Metaphysics, I, i)
These notions were perpetuated in the post-Aristotelean schools (Stoicism, Epicureanism, neo-Platonism), with the Stoics and Epicureans accentuating the moral bearing of philosophy and the neo-Platonists its mystical bearing. The Fathers of the Church and the first philosophers of the Middle Ages seem not to have had a very clear idea of philosophy, but its conception emerges once more in all its purity among the Arabic philosophers at the end of the twelfth century and the masters of Scholasticism in the thirteenth. St. Thomas, adopting the Aristotelean idea, writes:
'Wisdom [i.e. philosophy] is the science which considers first and universal causes; wisdom considers the first causes of all causes.' (St. Thomas, In Metaph., I, lect. ii).

Philosophy of Religion Quotes

Aristotle, 340BC, On God, Religion and Metaphysics God is thought to be among the causes for all things and to be a kind of principle. (Aristotle, 350BC)

Zeno, founder of Stoicism, On One God God is not separate from the world; He is the soul of the world, and each of us contains a part of the Divine Fire. ... All things are parts of one single system, which is called Nature. (Zeno 333-262BC)

Leo Tolstoy - On True Religion and God And the cause of everything is that which we call God. To know God and to live is the same thing. God is Life.
What am I? A part of the infinite. It is indeed in these words that the whole problem lies. The essence of any religion lies solely in the answer to the question: why do I exist, and what is my relationship to the infinite universe that surrounds me?
It is impossible for there to be a person with no religion (i.e. without any kind of relationship to the world) as it is for there to be a person without a heart. He may not know that he has a religion, just as a person may not know that he has a heart, but it is no more possible for a person to exist without a religion than without a heart.
True religion is that relationship, in accordance with reason and knowledge, which man establishes with the infinite world around him, and which binds his life to that infinity and guides his actions. The principles of this true religion are so appropriate to man that as soon as people discover them they accept them as something they have known for a long time and which stand to reason. The principles are very simple, comprehensible and uncomplicated.
They are as follows:
that there is a God who is the origin of everything;
that there is an element of this divine origin in every person, which he can diminish or increase through his way of living;
that in order for someone to increase this source he must suppress his passions and increase the love within himself;
that the practical means of achieving this consist in doing to others as you would wish to do to you.
All these principles are common to Brahmanism, Hebraism, Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, Christianity and Mohammedanism.
(If Buddhism does not provide a definition of God, it nevertheless recognises that with which man unites and merges as he reaches Nirvana. And that something is the same origin which the other religions recognise as God.) (Leo Tolstoy, 1879)

Mahatma Mohandas K. Gandhi, On Truth God Religion Truth alone is eternal, everything else is momentary. It is more correct to say that Truth is God, than to say that God is Truth. ... All life comes from the one universal source, call it Allah, God or Parmeshwara. (Gandhi 1869-1948)

Albert Einstein, On Religion and God It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it. (Albert Einstein, 1954)

A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty - it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man. (Albert Einstein, 1954)

Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind. (Albert Einstein, 1954)

Frijof Capra, On Eastern Philosophy, Religion The idea of the individual being linked to the cosmos is expressed in the Latin root of the word religion, religare (to bind strongly), as well as the Sanskrit yoga, which means union. (Fritjof Capra, 1974)

A religion old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science, might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths. Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge. (Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot)

Editor: Haselhurst


1. Catholic Encyclopedia: Philosophy, 1911
2. Catholic Encyclopedia: Religion, 1911
3. http://www.SpaceandMotion.com/Theology-World-Religions.htm - Quotes from Philosophers, Theologians and Scientists on Philosophy of Religion, God, Cosmos, Morality.